Jeanne: That’s Swag!

The Demon Always Wins

In July, thanks to my Golden Heart® final, I’ll be attending the 2018 RWA® National Conference in Denver. The conference will attract a couple of thousand romance writers, who are also romance readers. Because I’m planning to release my first books this fall, it’s time to think about swag for the Goody Room.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, swag are small, inexpensive items authors give away to publicize their work. (Also, apparently, it’s a new slang term for what used to be cool. The things you discover when you’re googling something else.)

Examples include:

  2. Candy
  3. Pens
  4. Stress balls (for squeezing)
  5. Lanyards
  6. Lip gloss
  7. Emery boards
  8. Hand cream
  9. Micro-fiber cloths for cleaning screens

Last year, I did a volunteer shift in the Goody Room, refilling bins and baskets, which gave me an opportunity to really look at the items authors had placed there, and to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. So, what constitutes good swag?

  • People pick it up.

What makes people pick up one item out of a room filled with other, similar items? It needs to be eye-catching. obviously, but it must also feel like it’s going to fill some need they have. Candy, particularly chocolate candy, appeared to work very well for this.

  • People hang on to it for a while.

After the person picks it up, they also need to keep it, for at least long enough to have an opportunity to check out the book(s) it represents–probably till they get home from the conference. Candy is a consumable. No matter how much eye-catching, book-related info you put on the package, once they eat the candy, they throw away the package.

So, for retention purposes, something less ephemeral works better—basically, everything else on the list.

  • It’s clearly branded so recipients associate it with you.

A friend who works in marketing suggested that having something that people will keep is less important than having something that’s so strongly branded it makes an impression.

The branding question is a lot broader than just swag. Spark Creative Partners developed some really great branding for my demon books, which you can see at my website.

As I’ve started to think about swag, though, I realize I will need a logo, too, that I can apply to whatever swag I decide to use.

  • It prompts them to check out what you’re promoting.

The same marketing friend strongly recommended putting a QR code on the item that the recipient can scan with her phone. The QR code should link to information about your product, along with a buy link.

I plan to release The Demon Always Wins on September 1st. This means that, for my swag item and my QR code to have real value, I need to have the book set up on Amazon for pre-order before the conference. Is that possible? Amazon will allow me to load the book this up to 90 days before my release date so, technically, yes. The bigger question is, can I finish my last round of edits and get the book proofread, formatted, ISBN-assigned and loaded by July 15th?

Deep breath, Jeanne, deep breath. You can do this.

  • It’s affordable, so that you’re not spending more on a single piece of swag than you’ll receive in revenue if the person buys your book.

The books are going to sell for between $.99 and $2.99 (I think). I view the money I’m spending on getting the first three books to market (website, editors, covers, etc.) as sunk cost. However, I plan to restrict what I spend on future books to whatever I make from previous ones, so it’s important to think about return-on-investment.

Even for a great opportunity like the RWA national conference, my unit cost needs to stay low. This rules out most of the items on the above list.

Have you ever given out swag items? What did you learn from the experience?


25 thoughts on “Jeanne: That’s Swag!

  1. I’ve picked up the following small swag items at RWA: candy, notebooks, lip balm, bookmarks, microfibre cloths, pins, pens. Some of them I still have. I can report that while it might have improved my awareness of an author, in not one single instance did the swag tempt me to check out the author’s website or work.

    The only thing that really worked for me was Tamsin Ley, who put out a printed copy of her merman novella. It was short, and it had a nice cover, so I picked it up to read at the airport check-in. I guess it wasn’t cheap, and she had to keep topping up the copies, but I actually read and enjoyed her story and remembered her name, so it was an effective choice.

    • PS My mum used to have a shop, and to her and the wholesalers we used to buy from, ‘swag’ would have meant an unbranded product, similar to but significantly cheaper than the branded version. Often they’d be nice-to-haves rather than need-to-haves, suitable for an impulse buy. Mum’s shop is long gone, so I have no idea whether the word is still used in that context.

  2. Another thought. If you wanted to go cheap, hit your branding, and not worry about retention, you could put out some shiny red apples?? Or even apples and candy snakes. Then you could spend most of the money on a container with your branding (which you could re-use), and/or put out cards that people could pick up if they’re curious. It would be more attention-grabbing than another bookmark or pen.

    • I thought of apples, too. Might be a welcome addition at RWA, plus everything that Jilly said. On the other hand, you’d probably have to buy locally, because shipping would kill you, and buying locally could still mean a shlep to the grocery, and they’d be heavy to carry. So not an easy choice, necessarily, but certainly a unique one.

  3. So, I too have spent a lot of time in the Goody Room thinking about what makes the swag useful for a marketing tool as opposed to who had items I wanted. The candy, butterfly key-ring, pens, and buttons that made their way into my purse were appealing, but did nothing to get me interested in the author or their book (some didn’t even give me a clear idea of who the author was or what their book was about).

    Oddly enough, the things I picked up that actually got me to go to the author’s website and/or look up their book on Amazon were bookmarks and postcards – specifically those that had images and text that clearly gave me an idea of the book/author that was being promoted. One may have had a code for a free e-book on the back, but most were just appealing informational postcards. Those are the things that made it all the way back home with me, rather than being consumed or left behind like the other items I initially picked up.

    • Regarding the code for the free e-book, what if it was a code for a free first chapter? To get the reader hooked, then they could download the rest of the book? Could you have the first chapter ready somewhere for folks to download? I know Amazon lets you download a sample, but by tying it to the QR code, folks don’t have to search you out in Amazon, they can just download it. (Of course, I say this having no idea how it could technically be done, but I have reached out to a friend.)

      • The first chapter of my first book is available on my website. I’ve been thinking about adding the second chapter, where he makes his first pass at Dara. He’s dressed in leathers and riding a Ducati and he brings all his sexy demon powers to bear. I’ve been told it’s very hot. I definitely need to figure out how QR codes work.

  4. I’ve only been a picker-upper of swag. And the only thing I’ve ever kept is some business cards that were beautiful. They are easy to put in my card case (do people do card cases in the US? It’s a “thing” in Japan for even quite common people), and I can use them as a bookmark in a pinch.

    I was wondering if you could put out postcards with “writing you from beautiful Denver — Colorado’s romance capital” (or something touristy). Then have your image in a corner or on the “writing side”. That would be a double-punch situation — people would pick them up and see them, and with any luck, write to friends who didn’t come to Denver who would see them. (I’m a huge postcard freak, though. I pick up postcards constantly and never do anything with them, and have done so ever since I was a child with an allowance.) Maybe the first hundred could even have postage on them . . . . (Dots because I’m not sure if the postage is in your budget — but if you had enough writing room, you could get by with pure advertising on the front, and a little “lovely Denver” thing on the back, and people would love to send a free postcard. Wouldn’t they?) Maybe you could do a service and sell stamps (domestic and international) for those who want them.

    You’ve got a great image. I think badges would go over well (well, they would in an SF/Fantasy convention, I’m sure. I don’t know anything about RWA).

      • I don’t know what it’s like at the RWA convention, but at WorldCon, people attach all sorts of ribbons and buttons and stuff to their nameplate. They start to look like those Texas Homecoming Mums that have everything and a teddy bear in them, LOL.

        Here’s an interesting article about ribbons and how they work; I bet in your area, there’d be plenty of attendees who have been to SF conventions. You might run it past your fellow Dragonflies (and your new fantasy group) to see what they think. (-: You could start a whole new trend in Romance Convention Wear.

        (I really like the flapper dress made of ribbons.)

        • My 2016 conference badge is hanging in my writing den. It has 3 badge ribbons on it–paranormal, inspirational and contemporary. So badge ribbons are definitely a thing!

  5. I am not the swag consumer that authors want, because I pick it up, but I don’t even check to see who the author is, much less look them up or buy a book from them. I look to see if I can use the item, and if so, I just got a freebie. I have a bunch of key rings from RWA, on which I keep house and car keys for guests. I eat the candy, I use the pens until they dry out, etc., etc., but who they promoted? No clue. I also got the printed novella that Jilly picked up by Tamsin Ley, and I enjoyed that, too, but I haven’t bought anything by her.

    Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do swag. I might be an outlier in terms of marketing. But what does get me interested in an author is a public appearance. I first heard Jenny Crusie, Ciji Ware, and a ton of other romance writers (my introduction to romance lit) do a panel at a SF book conference years ago, and I was so impressed with all of them that I went out and bought all their books. Have you considered doing the independent author signing at RWA? It might be too late to sign up, I don’t know. And maybe you don’t want to print your whole book, maybe just an excerpt. I’ve done that signing a couple of years and have gotten some very nice reviews on Amazon as a consequence. Just a thought. And that way you can interact with your readers a little bit, too. Get them to sign up for your newsletter. And when they come to your table, you can have your apples or your apple candy there as a follow-up reminder. It’s a way to personalize your marketing that swag alone on a table in a room can’t do. It’s a more expensive option, though, especially if you go with a print option. I have seen people at the indie author signing who just hand out a postcard with the scan code on the back, so people can download the book for free when they get home. That makes a lot of sense, since many people don’t want to carry a suitcase of books home with them.

    • This year, the timing is an issue. I’m not planning to release the book till September 1st, so I won’t have print copies in July. These are great ideas, though. I’m going to keep them in mind for next year.

      • I’ve seen a lot of a published authors with pre-orders up before the book was finished. I think I have, anyway. Aaronovitch, of The Rivers of London series, I think has done this; SFF fans on one of the mailing lists I follow often mention when an author has pushed back a pub date, and the pre-orders are funked up.

        Oh, and I just read/saw on YouTube recently about an author who had pre-orders out, made a change in the book, and all the pre-orders disappeared. I’m pretty sure this was on YouTube, because I think she appealed to her fans on national TV to re-preorder. I think it was on the Daily Show.

    • I don’t think you need the full manuscript at Amazon. I think when you set up the pre-order, all you need is a dummy document, something with text. But then I think it’s 10 days before you go live, you have to have the full text uploaded so they can do whatever they have to do to make it downloadable. And if you miss that 10-day deadline, they send out the dummy text. Of course, you can cancel. And if you do that—ask them to postpone it—they ban you for life from pre-orders. (Or that used to be the rule; I haven’t checked lately.) So it’s imperative once you set your available date on the pre-order, that you hit it–that is, get it uploaded the 10 days in advance, or whatever they tell you.

      Other publishers will vary.

        • I’m initially planning to go narrow with The Demon Always Wins, and put it in Kindle Unlimited. I understand that’s the best option to provide visibility for an unknown author like me.

          I just finished the second-round edit, so its ready to be proofread and formatted. (Here’s another example of things I don’t know: which comes first: the proofreader, or the formatter?) Given that we’re still (barely) in April, I should be able to upload the finished book before the National Conference in July and skip the dummy-document step.

          I have to tell you, the idea of putting it out there for the crows to pick over makes my heart thump.

        • Kay’s right. You don’t need the full MS. But if you can get it done, all the better.

          Be wary of KU. I’ve heard lots of stuff on the boards I belong to about Amazon’s “unfair” practices, and my friend tells me that they have an exclusivity contract, so if your book is on KU, it can’t be on any other platforms (she says about 60% of her revenue comes from Amazon — the rest from other platforms). I’d suggest doing a lot of research and reading the fine print on KU before you move forward with it. She also said that many readers outside the US can’t download anything from KU/Amazon because of rights limitations, but they can on other platforms. My friend released a novella in 2015 and put it on KU. She made $15/month the first 3 months it was on KU, then switched it off KU and started selling on other sites. She made $400 the first month on Amazon alone, plus $300 on other platforms. (Yes, she has an existing audience, but still — that’s a pretty big difference.)

          I guess what I’m saying is do your research and make sure you’re good with the terms before you jump into something. 🙂

  6. P.S. Jeanne–Proofing comes before formatting. NOTHING comes after formatting. Except selling. 🙂 Well–you should proof the formatted copy and make sure the page numbers are there and the book flows correctly, like that. But proofreaders will change text—punctuation and whatnot—so if you format the book and then make a text change, the type lines can change and throw the formatting off, and your person might have to do those pages or the entire book over. So formatting always comes last.

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